Dr. Politics: Digital Campaigning, Part 1
By Dwight Patel
Campaigning has changed a bit from when I first ran for MD House of Delegates in 1994. At that time, if I wanted to connect with voters, I had three options. Direct Mail, Door Knocking and Doing Media Buys. For the most part media buys are just too expensive, and when running for State Senate or State House of Delegates or County Council you will over-shoot your district. Direct Mail was good but you need to do three mailers before most voters start paying any attention. Door knocking was the most economical way to connect with voters, along with fairs and other events.
I probably spent the bulk of my resources on direct mail and door knocking, (there really is no substitute for door knocking). However, I did get talked into doing a $2,500 radio buy for 7 spots. (Biggest Waste of Money!!!). But if you are running countywide or statewide, it is worth doing some media buys right before the elections.
Fast forward to 1998: Most candidates were starting to use this new-fangled gizmo called the world wide web. Most of the first generation of campaign websites were cyber billboards along with some bio links and position papers. Former Michigan Congressman Dick Chrysler made the most effective use of the web in 1998, and his site was updated twice a week (Yeah, twice a week, how times have changed). His website included a bio, press releases, position papers and a few pictures from events.
Today, we have many options that are more effective than mass media buys, direct mail and just door knocking. Targeted email and social media advertisements are now available at a much lower price point than direct mail. We can develop sophisticated walk books, targeting just the Republicans. We also do high-targeted Facebook ads that will be visible only to people in your districts. And we can do YouTube ads for a fraction of the cost of traditional media buys.
IMPORTANT NOTE: A good digital campaign can be done at 1/3 the cost of traditional direct mail just as a targeted YouTube ad can be done at ¼ the price of traditional TV & radio variety.
Let’s dive into the happy world of your Digital Campaign Plan
Digital Campaign Plan
Have a Real Website, since there are so many great Content Management Systems (CMS) to choose from:
o Nation Builder
Don’t be a miser. Pay someone to do a professional job, because the last thing you want is a website that looks like someone’s nephew did for free. The advantage of a CMS is that once the site has been built, anyone on the campaign who can use MS Word can make updates to the page. Your website should be updated daily, since new content will increase traffic to your website. If you can’t do it daily, here’s a suggested schedule: Monday, recap weekend events; Wednesday update, talk about what happened since Monday and highlight weekend events; Friday, reaffirm weekend events, as well as push for volunteers to attend events.
When you design your website, keep it consistent with your political collateral, since you don’t want to be the campaign where everything looks different, and you look like a rank amateur. THIS ISN’T THE IMAGE YOU WANT. Develop the plan down to the Authority Line (AGAIN YOUR WEBSITE MUST HAVE AUTHORITY LINE). When collecting donor info for online donations, ask for name, address, phone, occupation and email. (One, you need all this for reporting Name, Address, Occupation. You want the phone and Email to build your lists.)
Things you MUST HAVE on your website
Ability for people to download your palm card
Ability to download position documents
Ability to sign up to volunteer
Links to all Social Media
Sign up form
Phone Number and Address of Campaign office, (DON’T use your home address)
Pick a webhosting provider -+ I recommend Bluehost.com, HostGator, dreamhost.com, Godaddy.com, codero.com or RackSpace.com)
NOTE: I use RackSpace and Codero for my professional business and I use BlueHost for my associations.
PICK A CMS (NationBuilder, Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, Umbraco, SharePoint)
Pick a theme – Pay for the theme — Don’t get a free one. However, if you want a Free Theme, the best one is tesseracttheme.com, if you want to pay for a theme themeforest.com, teslathemes.com and themify.me have great selections)
Hire your developer, make your deadline clear, nail down costs for initial development and updates.
Make sure you have all the passwords and emails and logins for your domain, hosting provider and CMS.
You want to be on social media, and yet you don’t want to be on every social media out there. Stick to the Big Four (Facebook, Twitter, LinkdIn, and Instagram). You may want to have a Google Group as well, but this isn’t as important as the big five.
Start with the Big Four. Your target audience will weigh heavily on what social media network is best for you to start with. Regardless of what networks you choose, focus on learning your audience patterns, lingo, and habits. Take that understanding to inform your social media strategy.
Create a page on Facebook, invite friends and family to get your likes up early, always link new content from your website to this page. Add pictures of all your events on your FB Page as well as links to your position papers.
On Facebook, take advantage of Facebook ads where you can have your email lists run against Facebook members. With this information, you will be able to target Facebook ads only to people who vote in your district.
Candidate and/or trusted campaign staffer should tweet for the campaign. Things you should tweet are events where the candidate will be attending, fundraisers, position paper updates, press releases, successful fundraisers, donate to campaign (Money Bomb) .
Don’t tweet things like what the candidate had for dinner. This may be funny but again, it looks like amateur hour. That is what Instagram is for.
If you set up a candidate profile on LinkedIn, you are able to link to your press and position documents. LinkedIn data is different because members have professional incentives to keep their profiles accurate and up-to- date.
Use real member-generated demographic data to reach the right audience: job title, company, industry, seniority, and more. This makes LinkedIn great for highly accurate targeting.
Why Instagram? The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is truly a reflection of the impact and influence Instagram can have when used correctly. It is no wonder that Instagram is one of the top apps used today and especially popular among a younger crowd. While it is a lot of fun to use with a personal account, Instagram is a unique social media platform to promote your organization and can be used as an advocacy campaign tool.
Instagram is also a great advocacy campaign tool to use to attract a younger audience. It boasts an ever growing community of over 300 million users who share close to 60 million photos every day. While Facebook and other social media platforms are beneficial when trying to reach a diverse, mainly older audience, more than half of Instagram users fall into the 18-29 age demographic. In fact, it has overtaken Facebook and Twitter as the platform with the largest population of younger users. In addition to age, Instagram has the most equally diverse audience compared to frequently used social media platforms when it comes to education, income, gender, and location.
Remember, anytime you want to use it, just like Twitter and Facebook, frequent posts keep your volunteers & supporters updated and are the main reason to invest time in social media.
In 2017, you should be putting your digital campaign together, so that New Year’s Day 2018 you can send out a Tweet to your supporters, as well as posting on LinkedIn and Facebook that you are running and we have 309 days to Election Day. It is June, and you have plenty of time to tweak your digital plan if you find something isn’t working. You don’t want to be doing this in January, 2018.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital campaigns. My next column, Part Two, will discuss how to make use of mailing lists to raise money, Internet Activism on Blogs, and how to target YouTube Ads.
I have additional resources and text books on digital campaigning, so please feel free to contact me at [email protected].